Thursday, September 18, 2014

Packing It Up - Part Two

Packing a headjoint for shipping
In a previous post, we shared tips and techniques for properly packing your instruments to ship them for repair.  The post, which you can read by following this link, also demonstrated how to pack headjoints and crowns.

We thought about a few more scenarios and revisited our Shipping Manager, Chris Lavoie.  Specifically, we wondered about shipping your flute and piccolo together in one box.  To do this, you'll want to make sure you have a box large enough to fit both instruments.  It's best to have the flute and piccolo each in their own case and then in their own box.  Then, you'll want to place foam (or comparable packing material) on the bottom of the shipping box.  Next, place the flute in the shipping box and the piccolo on top of the flute.  Make sure there is packing material completely around the flute and piccolo.  You'll notice a gap from the edge of the piccolo box to the edge of the flute box.  All you need to do to remedy this is to fill the gap with more packing material, as you will see in the photos below.
Gap at the end of the piccolo box.
Foam will fill the gap!
Also, we've had many inquiries about engraving, and we mentioned in a previous post that for lip plate engraving, you only need to send in your headjoint.  As with the instruments, you will want to place the headjoint securely in a small box that will then go into a shipping box.  The small box for the headjoint itself should hold the headjoint securely.  Chris tells us that you want to secure the headjoint so that it does not rattle or otherwise move in the box once it's closed.  We are a bit spoiled here at Powell because we have boxes that specifically are made with fitted foam inserts that hold the headjoint securely in place.  If you don't have this, just make sure that the headjoint is well padded and secured within the box, and you should be fine.

Headjoint secured with foam insert
If you need shipping materials, don't forget that we have flute shipping boxes with foam inserts in the shipping supply section of our online VQP Shop -- and always remember to put an extra layer of padding on top of the box contents.  Craft stores are also a great place to find soft packing materials like foam.  As long as the items you are shipping are secured and do not move within the box, they should have a safe journey!

Always remember to cover box contents with extra padding

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Care Tips for Wooden Instruments

Powell Grenadilla Custom with 14k rose gold mechanism

Break-in Period 

A brand new wooden instrument must be properly broken in to assure the instrument reaches its fullest potential. For the first two months you should play your instrument for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Let it rest for four hours, making sure you swab your instrument immediately after each playing session. During the first month, do not play the instrument more than twice a day; during the second month, you may increase the frequency to three times a day. After the first two months, gradually increase both the time and frequency of playing sessions until, after six months, the instrument may be regarded as fully broken in.

Preventing Cracks

A well made and well cared for wooden instrument will improve with age and give you years of delight. To minimize the chance of cracks occurring, two cautions are absolutely essential: 
(1) Avoid rapid changes in temperature (keep the instrument well insulated and do not leave it in your automobile), and (2) Never allow standing moisture to accumulate in your flute or piccolo, especially in the headjoint. 

The benefits of oiling are an improved appearance and a slight increase in the moisture resistance of the wood. Only Powell Flutes or an authorized Powell repair technician should undertake the task of applying oil to the bore of a body or footjoint. Your wooden headjoint may benefit from an occasional application of almond oil to the bore and embouchure hole after it is at least one year old. Use only pure pressed almond oil. Use extreme caution in wiping around the embouchure hole, as the delicate edges of the hole might become damaged. After it is applied the oil must be wiped off thoroughly but gently.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fall Back into Flute Care!

So, the time has come -- it's fall, and many college students are back in high gear performing in lessons and ensembles after a long summer break.  That being said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in terms of flute care and maintenance to help students as they shift back into a heavier practice and performance routine.

1.  One simple step you can take as a flutist is to swab out your flute and/or piccolo during rehearsals.  There will always be at least a few pauses or breaks when you can swab out your instruments.  College and university rehearsals are certainly longer than those in high school, so don't limit yourself to swabbing out once at the end -- swab as many times as you need when you can!

2. Wiping down your instrument after you play is critical.  It might seem like it's, well, not that big of a deal to just put it away without wiping the outside, but it is!  You want to wipe down the instrument and headjoint to remove oil, dirt, and residue that can accumulate on the body, keys, and in the embouchure hole.  (Click here to read our previous post on this topic, "Keeping It Clean.")  Those quick breaks in rehearsals when you are not playing are also opportune moments to wipe down the instrument -- so keep a cloth on your lap or closeby!

3.  This may seem like a "no brainer," but it really is important to brush your teeth and wash your hands before you play.  Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with you -- maybe "travel sized" ones that are small.  There is usually a bathroom where you can stop to brush your teeth and wash your hands before rehearsals.  In fact, you will probably see many people from your ensemble there at the same time!

3. Moisture will affect flute pads, so depending on how much you play and the humidity level of your environment, you may want to keep your case open and let your flute or piccolo "air out" a bit before you close the case and put your instrument away.  Of course, this should be done after you have thoroughly swabbed out the instrument.  There may not always be time to do this extra step, but if there is (say, after you finish practicing), it will definitely help.

4.  Finally, if you have the chance to run a rehearsal -- maybe a sectional, chamber group, flute choir, etc. -- make sure to give the ensemble players time to properly swab out, clean, and put their instruments away before they need to rush off to the next class, rehearsal, or lesson.  Your performers (and their instruments) will greatly appreciate this gesture, and it can really make a difference.

We're sure most of these tips are familiar, but in a college or university setting, the time one spends on his/her instrument can greatly increase -- so proper care for the instrument must match the demands on the instrument itself.  Just remember, the more you play, the more you will need to care for your flute.  Seize those maintenance "opportunities," keep yourself prepared, and your flute should definitely be able to keep up with you!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Not All About Looks...

This week, we stopped in the repair shop and had an interesting discussion with our technician, Rachel Baker, about pinned mechanisms.  Although the pins on a flute with a pinned mechanism are very small, they do "poke out" a bit, and some people simply do not like the look of this.  So, she has had customers ask if the pins could be made to be flush with the mechanism.  Whereas this look may be more aesthetically pleasing to some, making the pin flush with the mechanism would actually create many problems...

The pins in a pinned mechanism extend just slightly above the mechanism so that they can be removed (for repair and maintenance).  For instance, during a C.O.A., the repair technician must take apart the mechanism as part of the process, so s/he would need to easily remove the pins (follow this link to read our previous post on the C.O.A. process).   If the pins are flush with the mechanism, the repair technician would not be able to remove them.

Flute finisher Matt Keller also spoke with us about pins from the perspective of the finisher.  He explained that because pins are pushed into place, pushing the pin all the way through could damage the top of the key.  Pins are also tapered so that they stay in place.  The taper begins at the area of the pin that extends from the key.  This placement helps create stability.  If the pin were to be pushed down to become flush, the area around the top of the pin could loosen.

So, as you can see, the look of having the pin flush against the key might be appealing to some -- but it's position helps the mechanism function properly and allows your repair technician to safely remove the pin for repair and maintenance.

Red circle around the pin in position

Friday, August 22, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Flute?

If you have been shopping for a new flute, you've probably come across many choices, options, and specs for different models.  What do they all mean -- and how do they compare with your own flute?  Even if you are not looking for something new but are curious about the features and manufacturing date of your flute, if you play a Powell you can find this information online!

The Powell website's online bible allows you to enter a Powell serial number and find the specs on that instrument.  For instance, we entered serial number 14543 and found the following:

It may be a bit hard to read, but the photo above is a computer screen shot with the search results, which are:

Serial Number: 14543
Completion Date:  9/16/2011
Specs:  Powell Handmade Custom 14K Aurumite flute with sterling silver mechanism, .016" tubing, soldered tone holes, A442, Modern Powell Scale, B footjoint with gizmo, offset G, French cups, split-E and Powell pinless mechanism.
Model:  Handmade Custom Flute

So, this tells us quite a bit about the flute -- the date of completion, model, body and mechanism materials, body thickness, type of tone holes, pitch, scale, and options.  For someone looking to purchase a new Powell, it may be difficult to remember all the specs if you are trying multiple flutes, so you could print these results to help in the decision making process.  If you are searching for your own flutes, you may find information you did not know previously.  Perhaps you wondered if your flute had soldered tone holes, or a pinless mechanism, or the body tubing thickness -- and the search results can tell you this.  Wondering when exactly your flute was made?  As you can see, a quick database search will tell you the exact month, day and year!

All Powell instruments are listed in the database, so even if you have a serial number with only 2 digits, you should be able to find it.  If you have a Handmade Conservatory flute, you may need to enter "CHM-(serial number)" or "HC-(serial number)."  For instance, "CHM-123" or "HC-123."  Whether it is a flute or piccolo, it should be searchable.  Since the records were transferred from the physical "Powell Bible" to the online database, it is possible that you may find an error.  In that case, make sure to contact our Marketing Director, Christina Guiliano-Cobas at to let her know.

After you find the specs, you may be wondering what they mean -- like "soldered tone holes."  We have plenty of information on our website, and in our Flute Builder blog as well.  If you are on the blog, type "soldered tone holes" in the search bar, and see what comes up!  You should see several posts.  Between our general site, Flute Builder blog, and a Google search, your questions should be answered!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Engraving Facts and FAQs

Here at Powell, we are fortunate to have Weiling Zhou on staff as both a finisher and engraver.  We've seen examples of his work many times on our Facebook page and in a previous two-part post on key engraving which you can read by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II.

The engravings are truly, as flute finisher Lindsey McChord shared, "like works of art.  They are amazing.  You can have whatever you want, and they are very ornate -- really just amazing."  As she mentioned, you can bring your own design for the engraving(s), or you could choose from Weiling's large notebook of patterns.  His specialties include birds, leaves, flowers, and shells, but the possibilities go far beyond this -- such as initials and more abstract shapes and designs.

In our previous posts, we noted that if you are thinking of having engraving done on your existing flute, a good time to have the engraving done is when you send the flute in for repair.  This is especially convenient for key engraving since the keys are removed as part of the repair process.  However, you can have key, lip plate, and crown engraving done at any time. Also, if you are specifically having lip plate or crown engraving done, you can send the headjoint and/or crown in separately without the whole flute.

In addition to key, lip plate, and crown engraving, there is also an option to have the flute's rings engraved.  The ring engraving option is really best to choose when you order a new flute so the engraving can be done as the flute is being built.  This is because the rings cannot be engraved on the barrel, so to have them engraved on a flute that has already been made would require the barrel to be removed from the body, and then the rings to be removed from the barrel, and -- well, you can see why it makes more sense to request it when you place an order for a new flute!

Often times, we get questions from customers about how the engraving feels and if it will change the sound.  Lindsey mentioned that engraved keys can make things easier if the player has hands that may get sweaty and slippery.  The engraved lip plate is what gets the most inquiries, and Lindsey recently had the lip plate on her flute engraved.  She said that the lip plate doesn't really feel much different when it is engraved -- there's no really noticeable difference, and it feels normal.  "The engraving is an etching into the surface, so you aren't taking away material or creating a lumpy surface."  Lindsey did mention that she had previously used a postage stamp on her lip plate to keep it from sliding, and the engraving can actually help keep the lip plate where it needs to be.  As for sound changes, well, there are none because Weiling will not engrave on the edge of the embouchure opposite your lips (the "front" or "blowing edge").

So, if you are thinking of having your flute engraved, rest assured that the engraving will not change the sound, and you have plenty of pattern options.  To see more examples of Weiling's engraving, click the titles below to see the photo albums on our Facebook page:

New Engraved Crowns
Engraving Examples
Engraving Examples - II
White Gold "Chicago" Flute
Engraved Keys on Aurumite 14k Custom

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Headjoint "A Bit Off?"

New cork assemblies
We recently had a customer who thought something might be a bit off with her headjoint.  She would use her swabstick to check the headjoint cork position, looking to see if the mark on the swabstick was in the middle of the embouchure hole, and it just didn't seem quite right.  So, our repair technician, Rachel, took a look.  The swabstick mark was actually alright, so she didn't need the headjoint cork moved or replaced.  However, Rachel left our customer with a tip.  If you think something might be "a bit off" with the cork, play octaves.  If the octaves are in tune, everything is alright.  After all, one of the functions of the cork is to balance intonation between octaves.  We have a previous post on headjoint cork maintenance that you can read by following this link.

The customer also wanted to have her headjoint checked for fit.  She felt that it might be too loose, and sure enough, it was!  Our technician was able to fit the headjoint by expanding the tenon, and everything was good to go.  Concerned about the fit of your headjoint?  If the headjoint is turning when you play or if you are having trouble getting the headjoint into the body, you definitely should have your repair technician take a look.  Click here to read more from our previous post on headjoint fit.